Tying Loose Ends

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"Even monkeys fall from trees" The run begins on the the Day of the Early Tiger in the Month of the Bear in the Twelfth Year of the Bear since the Regency Council was formed

The run takes place starting in Tahiti and wandering a lot

Previous Run

Contents

Incoming

The party has gathered in Tahiti and is discussing events of the previous days, when the butler rushes by to answer the front door. When he returns, he has a visitor: Master Hsi. He has come to enquire on the status of the water gate that he was promised. Kuan-Xi assures him that they should be able to sort it out soon, but if he can wait while they wrangle the details, that would be most appreciated. The butler sees Master Hsi to a sitting room and brings tea.

To recap, in exchange for a last-minute Potion of Pure Respite, Master Hsi has been promised a water gate that will enable him to reach the gardens in the Jade District. Either a gate to the Jade Gardens themselves, or a gate to property in a nearby district as well as a Jade Key.

Then, the butler rushes by again. This time he brings a petitioner, an officer of the Dragon Army. He frowns, and bows, and says that he is told that the House of Exuberant Interference is the one to speak to about the difficulties that the army has been having in the Tanzhe Plain. They have been attempting to maintain reasonable patrol discipline, but there is a bard causing trouble. And, he is given to understand by the locals, that the bard has been extended official protection by the House. Thus, he would like the House to either withdraw their protection so that the army can deal with the bard themselves, or to deal with the problem. There is some rolling of eyes - how can a mere bard be interfering with the might of the Dragon Army - but the captain does not rise to the bait, and notes that they must not have met this particular bard.

Cai Wen tries to clarify if the Army is asking for his assistance, trying to fish for a favor, but the captain's point of view is that the bard is Cai Wen's problem, the captain is doing Cai Wen the courtesy of not just making him go away. So it's kind of a wash. Takanata wonders if this is the Tiger's Landing Bard or Gou - how to deal with him will vary widely depending. But it seems unlikely that Gou needs the protection of the party from the Dragon Army.

The butler rushes past again as people discuss potential bard tactics, and the Dragon Army officer heads away again.

Then the butler rushes past a fourth time without having brought forth a third visitor, which Takanata thinks is a particular sort of suspicious, and thus begins searching the house. Sure enough, in one of the sitting rooms is Li the Wanderer. Takanata sits down, expressing surprise at the visit. Li admits that he is a little surprised as well, but it is... business. He has been asked by a mutual acquaintance to clean up some things that need to be less remembered. Can Takanata give him a briefing on who he spoke to in the Strand? Takanata checks - does Li mean about the burning water, or about the sign of Toro? No, neither of those - Li wants to know who Takanata told that the Golden Palace is offering people immortality in order to make Shuyan the Queen of the Strand. As Li heard it, Pai wanted Takanata to help deal with some sort of organic fuel source, and Takanata ended up promising people immortality. That's not quite what happened, but Li says that he's here so that His Highness does not have to get involved. In any event, Lady Shanlee of the House of Onyx is the one who was interested in immortality, and she and the invigilator who was with them at the time are the only ones who heard about the Golden Palace being involved. Li notes that promised or not, Pai is the one on the hook for the problem, since it was her mission to begin with, so he's here to find out the details before he goes to deal, as a favor to her. Before he goes, Takanata wonders if he has ever travelled beyond the realms of the Southern Barbarians. Li has not, but he expects that Yeh might have.

Meanwhile, the butler has returned from seeing in the fourth guest. Shuyan goes to deal with this visitor, and it proves to be an emissary from the House of Onyx, who does a full kneeling bow to her.

"Great Queen, we need to know - on behalf of those toeing the line - what is your preference for The Adjective."

People recall that the party had convinced the board of the Toe the Line association to stop messing around with canals and build her a one-adjective mansion in the capital of the strand. Shuyan says that it will require serious thought, and the emissary is filed in another sitting room to await her pleasure.

The butler shows in yet another guest, and the sitting rooms are starting to run short. This is a forester from the town of Quli in the Craneslake Heights, who has come to demand satisfaction, or the arrest of Yang Shen-Ji. Apparently Shen-Ji has sabotaged and pilfered among the Ancient Pines. Er, Where are the ancient pines? The forester says they are high in the Mountains of Heaven, in the western Craneslake Heights. Nobody else has heard of them.

Shen-Ji comes in, reeking of compost.

"Why don't I have a talk with them in the garden? The bloodthorn roses need to be fed." -Shen-Ji

Meanwhile, outside in the garden, Captain Izumi is poking the bushes with her sword. Cai Wen goes out to see what she's up to, and she tells Cai Wen that it's just a security check, but maybe he could wait inside anyway. As she hunts around the garden, a ninja decloaks and nods to Cai Wen. Izumi gets ready to chop the ninja, but Cai Wen suggests diplomacy. The ninja is here on behalf of the Master of the House of Night's Promise, and suggests that maybe they could speak privately. Cai Wen isn't willing to talk to him without his guard captain, but the ninja warns that while she may be trusted, the information he has could put her in danger. Cai Wen concedes, and they go into a locked room to chat, with Izumi guarding the door.

The butler rushes past to greet yet another visitor, and Xian heads to meet whoever it is, as the number of house members who are free has declined precipitously. The butler backs away from the newest guest, looking terrified, and Xian offers to delay whoever it is while the butler goes to look for Cai Wen or Shuyan. The new visitor proves to be a cloaked figure with a palpable aura of menace, who grandly dismisses the butler. Then she pulls her hood back, and it's Chantou, the Dark Sorceress. Xian proudly shows her sister her newly upgraded hoop.

So... Chantou hears that Xian has a friend in the Dragon Navy. Xian allows that the Sea Lord owes her a favor. Well, there's a village, and the Navy is going to come and squish them, and Chantou thinks they really should not let that happen. Xian would like to know a few more details, like where is it, and why are they going to be squished? Chantou explains that it's on the coast of the Northern Arcade. And, well, things got out of hand, but it's all under control now.

"What's the name of the place - or, what was the name before you got there?" -Xian
"Funny you should mention that..." -Chantou

The name before was Fisherman's Hook. Now they call it Castaway Isle. Ah, so, it wasn't an isle before? Not technically. Chantou continues - they're not going to do any more pillaging, it just got a little out of hand. If they could just keep the anti-piracy forces from smooshing them, they are on the road to not doing any piracy at all. Xian frowns - what sort of pillaging? Chantou hurriedly clarifies that they didn't kill anyone. They just pillaged some, as one does. They somehow got it in their head that since they weren't connected to the mainland, they weren't part of the country. There might have been a very short declared war. But it was very short. And they're all building a bridge now. Anyway, Chantou has a couple of other things she needs to deal with, so if Xian could just take care of this bit... it was just a little lesson about independence and self-reliance that got a little out of hand.

"I am with you on that. I know how that happens." -Xian

Anyway, if Xian goes to Castaway Isle, she should look up Supreme Captain Feng, and he'll take care of Xian. Oh, she might want to fix the "Supreme Captain" thing too, while she's at it.

That seems to be the extent of the visitors, so everyone leaves their guests stashed in various sitting rooms, and regroups.

Irritations and Inflammations

Cai Wen looks for the scoreboard:

Score
0 for 7

That suggests that seven visitors is everyone - and that nothing is actually accomplished yet. Well, that's about as is expected.

"The avalanche is done, the pebbles can start voting now."

Shuyan suggests some brainstorming for her house adjective - Harmless? Mysterious? Royal? Then she goes to find the emissary from the House of Onyx, and informs her that the adjective will be "Mysterious." The emissary agrees that Shuyan is most wise, and she will return and inform those who toe the line. Shuyan dismisses her.

Cai Wen checks the scoreboard again.

Nominal score Actual score
2 for 7 0 for 7

Huh, that has gotten more complicated.

Cai Wen goes to talk to the ninja, trailed by Wei Han. The ninja explains that he is charged by his master to give them two things. One is this bag with loots (repayment of a debt), and the second is a briefing on... one of the emissaries of the web-weaver. One of these emissaries travels in circles similar to the circles of the ninja's master, and it has come to his master's attention that Cai Wen and certain of his fellows have been significantly compromised over a period of months. He is here to brief Cai Wen on the danger they are in. Cai Wen summons the party. Takanata is concerned that the ones who are compromised should not be listening, but it isn't clear yet who is compromised. The ninja notes that it's very hot in the small room - might he sit down and have some water?

He continues with his explanation - one of the emissaries of the web weaver is of a profession not unlike his own.  This proves to be a surprise - really?  A ninja?   Indeed, he is a master of these arts, especially those more similar to his master than to others that they might be acquainted with.   The one they speak of has for many months been preparing for a more final strike.  They should expect that those who are significantly compromised would be (he coughs) taking six times normal damage, while those mildly compromised would receive x4 damage.   However, he is unlikely to strike until his collection is closer to complete.  The ninja trails off, looking tired.   Beginning to be concerned, people ask if he is feeling unwell, but he says it is nothing and he will see to his duty. Takanata makes a medicine roll, and notes that while he is at full hit points and full health, he will probably die within minutes if not stabilized, due to a severe allergic reaction. 

The ninja says that he thought he was careful to not say any forbidden things, but he must have made a mistake. Shuyan determines that he is suffering from a very tiny spider bite, but he's very very allergic to it. She tries to neutralize the bite, but discovers that she is at half successes against her opponent.

"My master, in the court of spires..." -ninja

At this point, his throat closes up and he can say no more. Cai Wen runs to Master Hsi, still in the other sitting room. It is an emergency - one of their other visitors is dying of poison. Master Hsi comes to examine the victim, and is a bit disconcerted to find that it is a ninja, but directs the party to find the spider that made the bite, or any of its species.

Wei Han searches Shen-Ji and the room he is in, for spiders, as Shen-Ji was out in the compost heap, but finds nothing alarming.

"I'm very concerned that we are in danger of giving Shen Ji a legitimate cause of complaint for being put upon. We must be very careful." -Cai Wen

Shuyan, however, finds a spider in the garden, and Master Hsi uses it to produce an anti-allergenic potion. Cai Wen, with help, manages to get the potion into the dying ninja, and the reaction begins to recede. Master Hsi suggests that he will need to rest in a warm dark room for several days before he can truly be said to have recovered. (The spider bites Shuyan too, but she is unimpressed.)


Nominal score Actual score
3 for 7 0 for 7

Shen-Ji asks for more details about what happened to the ancient pines, and the forester says that two of the pines are missing and presumed dead; one is damaged, one is on its side, cut down in its ancient prime!

However, on the theory that it is better to solve nearby plots, the group decides to go look for the bard instead and heads for Tiger's Landing. Once they get there, they see a battalion of Dragon Army soldiers patrolling, accompanied at a distance by the annoying bard.

"Strum strum strum, the Dragon Army, keeping us safe, from blades of grass and crickets...."

Cai Wen heads over to the bard, clapping him on the back and asking what has transpired.

"Strum! And suddenly out of the trees comes a greater authority than the Dragon Army! How will they fight?"

While Cai Wen distracts the bard, Wei Han tells the soldiers to keep going.

"Oh great kingmaker of the Plain, how may we lowly wretches do your will?"
"He's kind of growing on me." -Xian

Takanata hums counterpoint to the bard's song, and manages to convince him with spontaneous poetry to pester the Imperial Customs House at the border instead.

Nominal score Actual score
4 for 7 0 for 7

A nearby bystander, who has been watching, decides this is no longer interesting and begins to wander away. Cai Wen chases him down, on the theory that such a person could be up to something. So... has he been watching the bard long? Well, the guy is always good for entertainment. When did he start mocking the Dragon Army? Apparently, when the new governor drove him out of the Court. First he came back and annoyed the mayor. But the mayor chased hm away, so then he went and latched onto the Dragon Army. They’ve been kind of fun, because they really don't like being mocked. The mayor is more used to it, and just rolls his eyes. The governor is kind of fun though - he doesn't like being mocked either.

Takanata thinks about the omens - would the "actual" score be something to do with the bard, or something to do with the Dragon Army? His best guess is the former. People try to remember what they learned about the bard from previous runs. Yanyu had identified that his aspect screamed Monkey, and another interesting thing was that he always rolled 12 successes.

The group chases after the bard, who has not gotten all that far towards the custom houses. Takanata looks for the strongest connection to Shuyan (who has the Monkey talisman), and discovers that they both have powerful Monkey artifacts. Shen-Ji takes a look at him, and determines that the bard's lute is a powerful magic item. Well, that's interesting, but it doesn't suggest an immediate course of action.

Conversations and Briefings

Since there are a lot of other plots to do, it seems prudent to do another one that doesn't need a lot of investigation.    The water gate for Master Hsi seems like a good next project.   Whose permission would be helpful here?  Would Shen Gao be able to give permission for a water gate in the fountain in the Jade District?  Or would Precious Jade be the right person to talk to? 

The group heads back to Tahiti, and lets Master Hsi know that they will be heading to the Dragon's Throne to secure the location for the other end. Would he be willing to allow one of the residents of Jade to travel to the Strand in return? Master Hsi wonders how trustworthy this person is, and Cai Wen says they are a trusted ally. In that case, Master Hsi is willing to share access to the gate with such a person. Kuan-Xi asks if she can come and talk shop with him in the future - he agrees, but requests that she keep the unpaid consultation to a minimum.

Between Takanata and Shuyan, there are two jade keys in the party, so the group can proceed through the Dragon's Throne to the Pavilion of Rain and Flowers, where Shuyan goes in to speak with Precious Jade. Precious Jade wants to know if Cai Wen has managed to get Xiao Fa on board, but it turns out that Shuyan hasn't been briefed on that particular topic yet. Shuyan explains the situation - they owe someone a favor that involves building a water gate from his house to somewhere that he can visit the Jade Gardens. The gate itself would need to be secure. Precious Jade thinks she could arrange a secure location in Ivory or Obsidian - probably a lease rather than a deed. But as far as getting a location in Jade to set up a water gate, that is trickier. To a large extent, everything is public to someone else who has a jade key. If Shuyan thinks her friend was appropriate, Precious Jade could get an appointment as a concubine for her... no, that doesn't work for him. Ah, no, it probably doesn't. Well, to get permission to set up a portal in Jade, Precious Jade suggests that the Mayor, or the Alchemist or the Municipal Sorcerer could arrange it.

In the end, the logistics of a portal directly in Jade prove a little too annoying, so the party arranges for a leased property, in Ivory, a Jade Key, four jade passes, and several nights of Precious Jade's attention. The party keeps four jade passes for themselves, pay for the key out of the bag of loot that the ninja brought, and Kuan-Xi builds the first water portal.

Nominal score Actual score Epic score
5 for 7 1 for 7 0 for 7
"Oh, now you're just trolling." -Charles

The party proceeds to the City of Spires, where Takanata auspiciously invokes the Master of the House of Night's Promise. The group explains to him that the junior ninja he sent was unable to fully brief them, as he was bitten by a spider. The ninja master hurriedly warns them to not say that particular word, but is pleased to hear that the other ninja survived, due to the presence of a master healer.

He fills in a bit more briefing, in circumlocutious detail. A set of associates - he assumes they know of whom he speaks - are incomplete, but they are not in a particular rush to complete their number, because they believe their latest associate, who is a master of a similar profession to his own, is all over it. He is compiling their weaknesses, and when he has enough, he will strike.

Wei Han wonders how to corrupt his information, and the master notes that changing sufficiently (as Kuan-Xi has done) might be one way. Or gaining corresponding information on him - for example, he is overly careful about his true name, so finding it out might be helpful. It's not trivial for him to find out this information about their weaknesses - simply walking by on the street would not be enough - but, as an example, anyone who danced with him at Yanyu's engagement party would probably be on his list.

Does he have a house of followers? No - the reason that the Night's Promise master has what information he does is that his counterpart used to have a house of followers, and disbanding it was part of his price of entry. There is certain ill will that has led some to speak of that which they would not normally.

Is his weakness the ability to be charmed, since Shuyan outdancing him caused his tag on her to be less effective? The master is dubious. In some sense, everyone's greatest strength is their weakness, in that to defeat someone in their specialty is the mark of a master, but he would not personally attempt it.

Is there anything else that the master ninja can suggest as standing out? He thinks for a moment, and says that the other is not just looking for their vulnerabilities to attack - he is also investigating previous victories and coming victories, to understand their place in the rotation.

"Surely you would not be acting without a plan, so he is ferreting it out, and that is keeping him distracted."

As he specializes in social interactions and not just chopping, the Arcade and the Taiga and the two islands are more fertile ground for his investigations. Takanata asks for more details about the ex-house. Have they been liquidated, or cut loose? Some of both. The ones who were cut loose are the ones that spoke, of course. Takanata wonders if it would be possible to speak to some of the cut loose people. The master says he might be able to arrange it, but that his reputation would be damaged if it proved to be a trap.

Nominal score Actual score Epic score
5 for 7 2 for 7 0 for 7

Takanata is concerned - if they finish all 7 of the quests nominally, will that end the run and prevent any more actual (or epic) progress? Cai Wen contemplates the mechanic, and decides that the end condition is a combination of 7 nominal wins plus meta time (or less than 7 nominal wins and later meta time). Okay, keeping back one nominal victory for the last thing at 7pm is probably the way to go.

An Unexpected Conflagration

The next plot that seems likely to bear "actual" fruit is whatever is up with Lai Shanlee and Li the Wanderer in the Strand.

Takanata warns Shuyan that she should decide what her plan is before talking to Lai Shanlee, whether that is "I am claiming the throne" or "I am not claiming the throne" or "I am exerting my authority while contemplating my options." Shuyan agrees that waffling is what got her into the mess to start with, and likes the third option, as it is most ambiguous.

Shuyan heads to the House of Onyx to speak to Lady Shanlee again, with Cai Wen and Takanata in tow. Lady Shanlee is a bit concerned that the true queen not be seen to be anyone's puppet, but Shuyan makes it clear that they advise her but she makes the decisions (and Lady Shanlee doesn't seem to remember that Takanata is anything more interesting than a poet). There are two principal factions in the Strand, and since the last Festival of Three Queens, the Viridian Queen's faction has been ascendant. She is not strictly isolationist, but is fairly hands-off as far as international politics goes. Shuyan appears to be something of the opposite, as she is definitely making a play to resolve Imperial matters to her satisfaction. Until recently, of course, Lady Shanlee was a member of the second faction, but now she is a member of the very small third (pro-Shuyan) faction. She must ask, though - does Shuyan have documentation to prove her lineage? Shuyan confirms that she does.

In that case, when she wishes to make her claim public, her first step should be to appoint a Speaker for the House of Jade. Such a person would show up at court and would be immediately arrested, and it would not be pleasant, but if Shuyan's lineage is true, then her credentials would inevitably be accepted and thus the Speaker would be accepted. After that it would be a matter of gathering support amongst enough houses until they can move.

"With enough houses we can move; with more houses than that, we can move while keeping bloodshed to a minimum."

So... what is the condition of the second faction? It is in something of disarray now - the leader was eliminated at the Festival of Three Queens. Unfortunately, it cannot simply be picked up by Shuyan, as they were more interested in overthrowing/changing the system entirely, rather than making a change within the current structure. Hmm. Well, is there someone in the second faction whose claim could be reactivated as part of a compromise? Maybe, but it would be a much lesser claim than that of Jade or Viridian. Shuyan notes that her mother had a brother - Lai Shanlee notes that this would also be a more significant claim than anyone in the second faction.

Another point Lady Shanlee makes is that while the College of Invigilators has an impeccable reputation, it is hard for her to believe that even a Master Invigilator would keep a claimant to the throne under wraps forever.

What does Lady Shanlee think of the Viridian Queen as a ruler? She describes the current queen as pragmatic, as well as the previously mentioned semi-isolationist. Her isolationist tendencies stem from her pragmatism - she thinks playing Imperial politics is dangerous, so she stays out of it. There have been some approaches by those who thought the Viridian Queen would make a good consort to the Emperor, but those have gone nowhere.

Takanata notes that he cast the Viridian Queen's I Ching some time ago and got two readings - one was isolationist and one was less so. Perhaps they can use the threat of a rival to push her into the less isolationist stance.

Shuyan thanks Lady Shanlee, and the group leaves to see how the construction of her estate is going. There are a lot of people toeing the line doing the building, and several guys in green armor watching the goings-on. Shuyan’s Snake of Secrets goes off to investigate, and returns with the commentary that it is a house of dark mystery, not just a house of mystery. There is a hue and cry to do battle with the enemy adjective.

Kuan-Xi tries to magically analyze the house, but finds it difficult, because "dark mystery" is all about not being analyzed. But whatever it is, it's not specifically sorcery, and she's not an expert in darkness. Shen-Ji notes that he is an expert in Darkness, and does an analysis pass of his own. Well, it's definitely not Southern Darkness, in the stat sense - it's more of a Toro Darkness.

Okay, that's definitely no good. Everyone descends on the architect, and Shuyan orders him to stop work on the house right now. He looks very unhappy at this - stopping work wouldn't be toeing the line, even if it's Shuyan's house. Well, how about he tells everyone to take a lunch break while they discuss things? That's less troubling, though he still isn't happy.

When the plans are examined, it becomes a little more clear - it's still a one-adjective house, but two thirds of the word is "mysterious" and one third is "dark". The architect actually finds that quite intriguing, as far as adjective-y houses go. As far as toeing the line goes, if the plans get changed, the workers will be fine, because their part of the goal is to follow the plans. The architect will have more of a problem, because his direction is coming from the Board, which is saying mystery/mystery/darkness.

Xian notes that Toro’s “darkness at the end” is a lot like “extinction”, one of the three words she has chosen for her hoop, and begins to ponder.

The group then proceeds to the the Invigilator's College, which is a scene of much more chaos than in previous visits. There is a great deal of smoke coming from one of the buildings inside, and the entire area is surrounded by soldiers in green armor, holding a perimeter against both inside and outside. Takanata statuses his way through, bringing everyone but Xian, and is nearly bitten by a snake before Shuyan chases it away.

The adorable snake is sent off to learn what it can - it returns to report that there are snakes everywhere, and a number of people have been bitten. Past the snakes, there is a ring of fire surrounding a building. The number of snakes in the area make it seem that Serpent is causing the trouble - is this a ferocious rampage by a great spirit? That would be no good, as well as potentially being a sign of Toro.

Shen-Ji flies over the fire to the building beyond and enters it from above to investigate. When he returns, he thinks there was maybe something he was supposed to tell Takanata.

"There's... um... something wrong." -Shen-Ji
"I'm a good listener." -Cai Wen
"Takanata has to fix it." -Shen-Ji

Shen-Ji heads back onto the roof of the building inside the ring of fire, and pours out enough water that Kuan-Xi can puddle-jump, while Cai Wen and Shuyan run through the fire under Cai Wen's blanket of fire protection. Takanata joins them on the roof, auspiciously, and everyone heads down the stairs to where a bunch of people, including a very cross Li the Wanderer, are taking refuge from the mess outside.

"Did you know that this whole place was spiritually protected against memory alteration before you sent me in?"

Li has apparently not dealt much with invigilators - if you just follow the rules about secrets, then you don't need to. As the party are all now great experts on the Strand and its invigilators, and because it is rare to have such an opportunity to insult one's enemies without repercussions, there is quite a bit of calling Li an idiot for having provoked the mess.

The main problems are:

  • Serpent is pissed
  • Which might be a rampaging Great Spirit, which is a sign of Toro.
"Oh, of course it is." -Li
"You're normally calmer than this." -Takanata
"I have been stuck here for three days and every time I come up with a clever plan to leave, the snakes get a power up!" -Li

So, where did the wall of fire come from? Li and the invigilators set it to keep the snakes out. As long as he stays here, nobody is losing their memory, but this isn't really a long term solution. However, if someone else were to take Li's book back home - with the obvious provisos about the dark terrors that would befall the world if he doesn't get the book back - then that should work. Takanata agrees to take the book back to the Golden Pagoda, so that when Li leaves, the people left behind won't forget him, which should prevent Serpent from getting more angry.

What about the sign of Toro, though? Kuan-Xi points out that the guilty and innocent alike have to be punished. Li is the only guilty person here, and he hasn't been punished yet. So as long as he doesn't take any damage, it's not a sign. She writes a note on the duplicating paper for those still outside the fire that they have to not hurt Li when everyone gets out.

So, now that there's a plan, can Li turn the fire off? He notes that he is not a fire sorcerer to turn fire on and off - they set the fire with oil and wood, not magic. He can't snap his finger and turn it off. Well, okay, everyone will have to rush back out the way they rushed in.

Cai Wen gives Li his fireproof blanket, and Shen-Ji gives him a potion of fire resistance, grumbling that he only just bought it, and he hasn't had the chance of firestorming the map yet.

Takanata gives Casi his tinfoil hat before he leaves, and then vanishes with the book. People mostly don't remember the rest of the instructions he gave, but there are still the notes saying to protect Li the Wanderer.

Kuan-Xi will deal with the fire and Shuyan will deal with the snakes, but that leaves the Army, which intercepts the people leaving the building to demand to know what the heck is going on. So Xian deals with the army, and manages to derail them into clearing a path to evacuate the building. She explains invigilators to Li, who finds the whole thing unaesthetic.

"It's like playing the Strand on Easy mode. No wonder that's who you people picked."

Xian wonders if Li started with the invigilators, or if he has already dealt with everyone else he needed to. As far as he knows, they only waved immortality in front of two people, Lai Shanlee and Casi, and he's already dealt with Lai Shanlee.

"I did uncover your secret plan to overthrow the Queen, though."

Xian points out that Li probably wants to go get his book back, but he doesn't remember what book she is talking about. She sends him off to the Golden Pagoda to look for Takanata, who suggests that they should have tea and discuss the rules of the Strand at some point in the future.

Nominal score Actual score Epic score
5 for 7 3 for 7 0 for 7

Takanata returns again, and gets his hat back from Casi, who notes that he has "some surprising frenemies".

In the morning, the group heads to the tea house where Master Hao usually has breakfast. He would really like to experiment with this new fractional adjective some more, but Shuyan stomps out that plan hard. So, are there procedures to remove the third board member, Toro’s guy? Kuan-Xi warns that everything else the Rising Line Association does will be tainted by darkness in the same way. Master Hao actually finds that idea intriguing.

"So we'll keep your house without the 'dark' adjective... as a control." -Master Hao
"You're evil, Laura" -Adina

Xian notes that her hoop is a "watching hoop of extinction retrieval", which might be useful in removing the flavor of Toro from things. Master Hao offers to try to put together a ritual to do so, if Xian leaves the hoop with him. Xian doesn't want to leave her hoop unattended, so she offers to stay and help.

Fallen Pines

The next plot to be tackled is the issue of the Ancient Pines. The group heads to Quli, where Grandmother Sen scolds Shen-Ji for the trouble to the pines. Shen-Ji persuades her that he wasn't behind the damage, and she allows as they can go up to help. She gives Shuyan a silver spoon - her last possession - to give to the foresters to prove that they came with Grandmother Sen's blessing.

High up the mountain, the stand of ancient pines is in bad shape. One of the pines has been tipped over, two are bare stumps, and one has had a chunk taken out of it. But it doesn't look like Shen-Ji's doing.

"The usual scorch marks are absent." -Wei Han

How does the forester think the pines were taken? She thinks it would take a man of unusual strength to carry a pine away. Everyone looks at Wei Han suspiciously.

Cai Wen investigates, and concludes that the chunk taken out of the last pine is a giant bite mark, preposterous as it sounds. Wei Han thinks that there is the hint of beastmastery around - it is probably dire beavers! Takanata uses the healing wand and a quick ceremony to partially heal the damaged tree, which placates the foresters somewhat.

Squeaky heads north, following the scent of something, and leads them to a newly flooded pond with two dire beavers working on a dam and a watchful dire warbear.



Dire beaver.jpg

Additionally, with Eyes of the I Ching, Takanata spots a beastmaster hidden in the impenetrable forest.

A bloody combat ensues, as Takanata speaks with the spirit of the stream, who charges him with getting the dam cleared to release the water. The dire creatures and the beastmaster are all killed; the spirit dries the ancient pine wood, and Takanata draws a picture for her on the surface of the stream in payment.

The group goes back to get the forester, who agrees at this point that the dire beavers are a more likely culprit than Shen-Ji. Shen-Ji summons his outrage, and is given a pine cone in recompense.

The beastmaster had a Wand of Dire Conversion. Shen-Ji and Wei Han spend some time arguing about it, and compromise that Shen-Ji can play with it for a little while but then Wei Han will be allowed to break it.

Meanwhile, Xian and Master Hao finalize the ritual to remove the darkness from the blueprints, and the House of Mystery is permanently immunized against Toro (but Xian does not end up with a Hoop of Toro).

Finally, as it is getting late Xian cashes her favor with Sea Lord Miyora, and scores a nominal victory in not getting Chantou's hapless pirates smushed.

Nominal score Actual score Epic score
7 for 7 5 for 7 0 for 7